Judge Hands Win To 16 Young Climate Activists In Montana

Montana's attorney general plans to appeal the ruling.
Stacks from the Colstrip coal-fired power plant east of Billings, MT can produce up to 2,094 megawatts of electricity. It is the second largest coal-fired power plant west of the Mississippi. It uses one rail cars worth of coal every five minutes. | Location: Coltrip, Montana, USA. (Photo by William Campbell/Corbis via Getty Images)
William Campbell/Corbis via Getty Images

A Montana judge on Monday sided with 16 young climate activists in a case dealing with the state’s fossil fuel permits.

District Court Judge Kathy Seeley ruled that the state’s approval process for fossil fuel permits violates Montana’s state constitution because it does not take into account the effects of carbon emissions.

“Montana’s emissions and climate change have been proven to be a substantial factor in causing climate impacts to Montana’s environment,” Seeley wrote. “Plaintiffs have proven that as children and youth, they are disproportionately harmed by fossil fuel pollution and climate impacts.”

The plaintiffs, who are between ages five and 22, sued the state, claiming Montana’s fossil fuel policies contribute to climate change.

Their lawsuit cited a 1972 clause in Montana’s constitution that says “the state and each person shall maintain and improve a clean and healthful environment in Montana for present and future generations.”

Monday’s ruling means Montana must start taking climate change into account when deciding whether to approve fossil fuel projects such as power plants. The state originally made it illegal to consider “actual or potential impacts that are regional, national, or global in nature” in fossil fuel project decisions back in 2011.

Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen, a Republican, plans to appeal the ruling.

“This ruling is absurd, but not surprising from a judge who let the plaintiffs’ attorneys put on a weeklong taxpayer-funded publicity stunt that was supposed to be a trial,” said Emily Flower, a spokeswoman for the attorney general.


“Montanans can’t be blamed for changing the climate,” she said.

Montana has a long history of producing and relying on coal and gas for electricity and exports. The state has the largest coal reserves in the country, about 30% of the nation’s total, and in 2021 produced about 5% of the nation’s coal.

“This is a huge win for Montana, for youth, for democracy, and for our climate. More rulings like this will certainly come,” said Julia Olson, the founder of Our Children’s Trust, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of the young plaintiffs.

Olson said the case marks a “turning point” in this generation’s efforts to “save the planet.”

Rikki Held, 22, was the lead plaintiff in the case. She grew up on her family’s 7,000-acre ranch in Montana and said she has witnessed extreme weather, flooding, and wildfires that have impacted crops and livestock on the ranch, which she believes are caused by climate change.

“I just have a lot of hope for the future,” Held said of the decision. “With decisions like this and all of the other court cases coming, there’s going to be a change. It’s just a matter of time now.”

Young people in other states have sued over what they say are the negative effects of climate change as well. Although similar lawsuits have been brought in the past, the Montana case was the first of its kind to go to trial.

A case in Hawaii involves young plaintiffs who sued over the state’s transportation system, which they say causes excessive greenhouse gas emissions and violates the young people’s constitutional rights.

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The Daily Wire   >  Read   >  Judge Hands Win To 16 Young Climate Activists In Montana